View Full Version : Author Photo Copyright?

07-04-2005, 05:28 PM
I've never liked how I look in pictures, and I'm guessing that has a lot to do with Aunt Bertha's artistic skills with her disposable camera. I'm considering goint to a professional photographer for my headshots. I looked at the packages of a few pro's in the area and thought about doing a portfolio session where a portion of the shots were done of me for the book and the rest my FH could do together for engagement pictures.

I inquired after basic information for such a shoot from two different photographers, and both told me that I would have to buy the copyright of the photos from them before being able to slap them on the backcover of a book. A CD with all the photos bought under copyright would cost about $500.

As a complete n00b, this is pretty shocking. Let's say hypothetically that my book does get published and goes on to garner some success -- if that happens, the little subtitle to the pic saying "Photo by Hoity Toity Photographers, Inc." will basically act as free advertising, right? As a photographer, wouldn't you want people to reproduce your image (so long as it is credited) in this kind of medium? Also, for the amount of money a person pays to have a pro shoot you, I'd think that copyright would be included in the original cost.

I guess I'm just naive and very ignorant about this copyrighting business. :Shrug: I wonder if you have to buy the rights from JC Penny Photography...

Cathy C
07-04-2005, 07:28 PM
Good question, SnowOwl, and one that I asked my own attorney when we got portraits done. Here is the gist of what he told me:

A photograph is a copyrightable work. The author of any copyrightable work always owns the copyright unless one of two conditions exist:

A. The work was created by an employee in the course and scope of employment; or

B. The work was commissioned by a third party and there is a written agreement transferring ownership or other applicable rights to the commissioning party.

If the work is "commissioned" but there is no written agreement transferring ownership, then the artist remains the owner. That is what the Supreme Court decided in the Reid vs. Community for Creative Non-Violence case which really re-defined the whole work-for-hire doctrine. Something in the "public domain" can of course be used by anyone for any purpose but that is begging the question of how something gets to the public domain. As long as someone owns the copyright then it is not in the public domain so that issue is moot for our purposes here.

So, get a release from the artist or studio (even if it's a chain store like Wal-Mart) before you pay your money. It's worth it in the long run.

07-04-2005, 07:56 PM
However, if you paid a photographer $X and signed a contract with them to do your headshots, do you own the photos (it's your likeness, after all), or do you still have to transfer ownership? I mean, these headshots (at least for actors) go on anything from websites to studio press releases to theater programs to publicity materials.

Cathy C
07-04-2005, 08:45 PM
That was my very question to the attorney, maestrowork. I made a presumption of what you stated and was corrected.

"It is not the case, as you have suggested, that "the commissioning of the photo changes the exclusive rights to the subject, with the artist retaining fair use." Rather, if the work is "commissioned" but there is no written agreement actually transferring ownership, then the artist remains the owner."

07-05-2005, 12:28 AM
While teh attorney is technically correct, this is not usually a problem. You need to shop around more. If a photographer does not take your photo, there's nothing to own, and he makes zero dollars. If he wants your business, then he'll give you the rights to the photos.

If he won't, look for another photograpehr. I've been doing this for many years, and I've never had a problem finding a photograpehr who was more concerned with copyright than with making money.

Every once in a while, you may have to say no. Tell them up front what you want, and if they don't agree, go somewhere else. Photos that aren't taken won't earn the photographer a penny. I've never found one who didn't see it this way when it was put to them this way.

Christine N.
07-06-2005, 04:25 PM
I've heard of people getting a release form for said photos, signed by the photographer. And if you get the photo published in the book, and give him credit, well then, it's a publication credit FOR the photographer too.

Me, I got lucky, my sister is a photography student, and she's building her portfolio. SO... she gets credit in the back of my book, and I get a good picture.

Perhaps you can find a budding, energetic photography student to help you??

07-07-2005, 06:28 AM
Okay, so if I want a waiver of c-rights from the photographer, what do I do? Hand him a form, or ask him to sign on a simple piece of paper stating: "I, hereby, renounce/relinquish/abandon my copyrights for this photo to the photographed person. Signed..."?


Christine N.
07-07-2005, 06:50 PM
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I think a standard release form is in order, stating that the photog gives you permission to reprint the photo, as long as you give him credit. You can probably write up something that's agreeable to both parties.

It's like if you go to Sears. If you look on the back of your portraits, they say "professional photograph. No reprints without permission." Heck, it's even on the back of my wedding phots. I can't copy those either, but I can get reprints from the photographer, she's got the negatives. Keeps people from pirating the pictures and taking money out of their pocket.

Well, here, you're getting permission. Have it notorized and make sure you each have a copy.

07-08-2005, 06:30 AM
Okay, so if I want a waiver of c-rights from the photographer, what do I do? Hand him a form, or ask him to sign on a simple piece of paper stating: "I, hereby, renounce/relinquish/abandon my copyrights for this photo to the photographed person. Signed..."?


Any sort of signed paper is fine, as long as he signs it.

There's nothing wrong with tossing in a few extra buck. I've always used the tip method. . .20% above whatever he's charging you for the photos. But I've never had a problem. Photographers are in the business to make money, and if you go elsewhere, they make no money at all.

07-08-2005, 06:48 AM
Thank you, James, though, now, when I think of it, it's pretty natural to give him just a paper, anything, to sign.


07-08-2005, 07:15 AM
Yeah, usually photographers are pretty good at signing release, especially if he thinks you're gonna go back and have more pictures taken... they make money off of taking pictures, not keeping them...

Susan Gable
07-11-2005, 12:34 AM
I solved this problem by having my husband take a bunch of pics of me with our digital camera. I chose one I liked and sent it to a friend who's very hand with Photoshop. She tweaked the pic (i.e. changed the background, got rid of any "fly-away" hair, and I also had her whiten my teeth <G>) then sent it off to me. I can print them up at any photo-print place (like at my grocery store) when I need hard copies, and since it was my hubby who took the pic, he was very happy to allow me to have the copyright.

Because the local photogs I called also wanted an arm and a leg for the copyright.

Susan G.

07-26-2005, 08:32 AM
I finally did it! I had real author shots taken! :banana:

I talked about it here months ago, saying I was thinking of going to Sears or something, but I never did it. Well, I hired a photographer to do my parents' anniversary party, and she looked at my website and asked me if I wanted her to take some author shots while she was there. I told her as long as I wasn't having an ugly day, I'd love it.

I should have all the shots on CD in just a few days, and she was thrilled with the idea that I might use them on my books. We're sharing rights to them, meaning that she can use my photos in her portfolio, online on her blog, etc. and I can use them on my site, books, promo material, etc.

SnowOwl, I found her on Craigslist under "event services" in my area, very reasonably priced. Have you tried there? Freelance photographers without a storefront will likely be much cheaper than those with studios.